CHAMPAIGN — By around Christmas, some 800 food service establishments in Champaign-Urbana will begin receiving color-coded placards that indicate the results of their latest inspection by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.
And effective Jan. 1, all food service establishments in Champaign and Urbana — including restaurants, food stores, school cafeterias, day care kitchens, concession stands, retail food trucks, hospital and nursing home kitchens, and correctional facilities — will have to prominently display the 8-1/2- by 11-inch cards that are either green (satisfactory compliance), yellow (reinspection required) or red (closed).
"They'll get the cards and the guidelines about how to post these signs," Jim Roberts, environmental health director for the health district, told the three-member C-U Public Heath District board Monday. "By the end of the week we should have everything printed and then we'll start to assemble it and get it out."
The biggest question among food service operators so far, Roberts said, is how and where to display the placards. The placard must be in a visible place, on an outside window or at a window within 5 feet of the main entrance.
"The idea is facing outward, in front, before you order and clearly visible to the public," Roberts said. "Those are the criteria we're looking for."
Champaign County Board Chairman Al Kurtz, who also is a member of the C-U Public Health District board, predicted there would be little problem with the initiative.
"We're hearing that more people want this. It shows to me that the responsible restaurant owners care about their safety and their business, and they're willing to go through an inspection and publicize it," Kurtz said. "If I was a restaurateur and I got a green card, I'd have it up within two seconds."
Meanwhile, Roberts said a number of food service establishments outside of Champaign-Urbana already have agreed to voluntarily comply with the rules although the county board voted last month not to make them applicable outside of Champaign and Urbana.
"My staff, while they were doing routine inspections out there, some of the operators said they would be glad to participate, that they want to have the placard," Roberts said. "So we're going to mail this information to the county food establishments as well. It will be a different cover letter, but the same information."
There are about 318 food establishments in the county outside of Champaign-Urbana, Roberts said.
All restaurants in Champaign County should get the color-coded placards at about the same time, he said.
"Whether they choose to put it up will be their choice in the county," Roberts said. "It's totally up to them."
In either case, though, once a green placard is rescinded and replaced with a yellow or red placard, the green one must be turned over to the health district inspector.
"The object in the guidelines is that it's the property of the health agency, so that when I issue you a new green one you have to give the old green one back. Otherwise they'll be floating all over the place," said Roberts.
Because the public health district does not have any jurisdiction at the University of Illinois, its food service facilities will not have the color-coded signs.
"There are no regulatory inspections, at the state or local level, that take place there," Roberts said.
CU-CitizenAccess.org, a community online news and information project based at the University of Illinois, has been reporting on local restaurant inspections since 2011. Many of those articles — which can be found at cu-citizenaccess.org — have been published in The News-Gazette.
Also Monday the public health board deferred until Dec. 19 a vote on the health district's property tax levy for next spring. As proposed, the levy is to increase about 5 percent over this year's level.